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December 5, 2013
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Editorial: Conservationists seek to marginalize wood-products industry

Not surprisingly, one of the state’s most active conservation groups, Oregon Wild, strongly opposes U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s Western Oregon timber plan.

While the senator was panned by a good share of the timber industry as too vague and too timid, Oregon Wild recoiled at Wyden agreeing that logging on federal forests should be increased.

In its railing, Oregon Wild ventured into a subject that it grasps with a shaky hand — economics.

“Logging is a relatively minor factor in the state’s economic picture today, surpassed both in jobs and economic revenue by the thriving tourism and outdoor recreation industry,” Oregon Wild stated in a press release.

Oregon Wild has hit this theme before: tree-huggers represent more wealth than tree-cutters.

There are enough trees to go around, but Oregon Wild is in no mood to share. The conservation group further noted that “structural changes” in Oregon’s economy over the past 20 years has reduced the importance of logging. Oregon Wild didn’t elaborate on what those “structural changes” have meant for Douglas County.

Whether you view logging, and by extension wood-products manufacturing, as minor or major may depend on where you live.

Forest-sector jobs make up 5 percent of Multnomah County’s economic base, according to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. In Clackamas County, it’s 4 percent. In Washington County, it’s 2 percent.

Elsewhere, forest-sector jobs aren’t such a “minor factor.” Forests are the source of 21 percent of Douglas County’s economic base. It’s even higher in Clatsop County, at 29 percent. Both counties boast recreation and tourist attractions, yet the forest-sector remains important to both.

Wyden touted his plan as “first and foremost a jobs bill.” How many jobs is debatable. The Oregon Forest Resources Institute estimates 11 jobs are created for every 1 million board feet harvested. The Oregon Employment Department calculates that about seven jobs are generated. However many jobs there are, the pay is likely to compare favorably with service-sector jobs supported in part by tourists.

According to a recent wage report by the state, logging equipment operators in Douglas County earn an average of $41,968 a year. Log graders and scalers earn $43,182, while those categorized as “logging workers, all others” earn $36,771.

Meanwhile, hotel, motel and resort desk clerks average hourly wages that would total $21,525 in a year. The employment department notes that this occupation has a large share of part-time workers.

In Douglas County mills, production supervisors earn an average of $49,273 a year, according to the employment department. Pay among skilled woodworkers varies, but generally hover around $40,000. The catchall category of “woodworkers, all other” average $38,975.

After a pleasant day fishing or hiking, tourists can enjoy a restaurant meal, where chefs average $21,687 if they work full-time year-round, or have a drink, served by a bartender making $21,303 a year.

Of course, Oregon Wild can look to the future and hope for more structural changes. It argues that employment in recreation-related industries will far surpass growth in the wood-products industry.

If Oregon Wild’s arguments prevail, they will be right. And that will be a major factor in Douglas County’s demise.

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The News-Review Updated Jan 2, 2014 07:27PM Published Dec 7, 2013 05:06PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.